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Forest Service tribal liaisons work to bridge gap between federal government, Indigenous communities

USFS Tribal Liaisons work to bridge gap between federal government and native communities
Posted at 10:12 PM, Feb 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-29 01:06:00-05

PUEBLO, Colo. — The U.S. Forest Service is working to bridge the gap between the federal government and Indigenous communities through the work of tribal liaisons.

Dr. Jason Herbert was hired to serve as the first tribal liaison for the Pike-San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands region. He started his position in August 2023.

“The idea behind this is to better administer these lands by talking to the Indigenous stakeholders here, the people who have always lived here in Colorado, western Kansas," said Herbert. “There are tribal leads liaisons throughout the federal government, whether you're talking about the National Forest Service, the United States Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management. There are tribal liaisons everywhere.”

Herbert said the start of his new position consists of a lot of learning, both from other Colorado tribal liaisons, tribal leaders and the landscape itself.

"If I was going to come out here, I felt like I owed tribes my due diligence to come out here and learn these landscapes that they call home," said Herbert. “My job is to talk to people. And ultimately, that's all a tribal liaison does is I want to make sure that tribal voices are being heard within our national forest system."

Ultimately, Herbert said his goal is to ensure everyone benefits from a better administration of the federal land.

"The whole reason we have these national forests is because we have a 250-year-old system of colonialism," Herbert said. "The reason why I'm out here is because the people who call Colorado home were violently removed from these landscapes. Now, I don't tell people that to upset them or to make them feel guilty. You didn't do this, but you are responsible. And by that, I mean, you're responsible for learning about these pasts, right? So that we can create a better present, so we can create a better future."

A historian at heart, Herbert said he wants to first establish a real working relationship with tribes based on trust.

"The only way to do that is to be humble, is to be serious about the nature of the job," said Herbert. “I look at myself here as a guest upon these lands. And in my position, I have to. These are native lands.”

“I don't think it's too much to do right by tribes and the United States Forest Service. We can accomplish both of those things," Herbert continued. "When you change the landscape, you change culture. When you change the culture, you threaten the viability of people. That's what's at stake here is making sure that we honor these landscapes and manage them in ways that are appropriate to Indigenous communities."

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